Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Little Mescalito that Couldn't: CRYSTAL FAIRY & THE MAGICAL CACTUS, MAGIC MAGIC


Psychedelic awakening, madness, and tonto re forro puta madre yankee nonsense is afoot in Chile, and a beady-eyed, hawk-nosed, blonde-tousled Michael Cera is there, a-swooping down from El Cóndor Pasa with jellied arms akimbo, fulfilling the soul deadening norteamericano tourist promise even into the ego-dissolving mescaline maw. Luckily the beautiful locals are so chill they don't even tell him to go take a flying leap. Enlightened by socialist higher education and lax taxation, to the Chileans he's just another Yankee, which is to say, accepted by them despite his inability to accept them or himself. Over the course of Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva's shot-back-to-back 2013 films, Magic Magic and Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus, Cera trips, trails, shoots, swims, jumps, screams, freaks out, titters, ducks, snarks, whines, twists, and wakes with his face in the bush, so to speak. He wants maybe to be a psychedelic Antonioni-esque shattered icon, but he's not handsome enough to be Peter Fonda, loco enough to be Dennis Hopper, menacing enough to be Bruce Den, or devilish enough to be Jack Nicholson. Cera does have a dash of Dern skeeviness, a peck of Jack loucheness, minor Hopper dementia, and Fonda's same self-aware remoteness. It's a start. Separated like Pyramus and Thisbe by a lean ridge of a nose they're forever trying to peer around, Cera's beady little eyes are in front to judge the distance to his prey, but can he swoop down on the bunny before creeping self-awareness blinds him to everything but his own black hole navel?

It doesn't even matter. Because today we'll be using Dali's 'paranoiac-critical method' to pick at this pair of films' paisley scabs:
According to Dali by simulating paranoia one can systematically undermine one's rational view of the world, which becomes continually subjected to associative transformations, "For instance, one can see, or persuade others to see, all sorts of shapes in a cloud: a horse, a human body, a dragon, a face, a palace, and so on. Any prospect or object of the Physical world can be treated in this manner, from which the proposed conclusion is that it is impossible to concede any value whatsoever to immediate reality, since it may represent or mean anything at all" (Marcel Jean). The point is to persuade oneself or others of the authenticity of these transformations in such a way that the 'real' world from which they arise loses its validity. The mad logic of Dali's method leads to a world seen in continuous flux, as in his paintings of the 1930s, in which objects dissolve from one state into another, solid things become transparent, and things of no substance assume form. -- Language is a Virus
With Magic Magic especially, we can count Sebastián Silva part of what I've dubbed the Darionioni Nuovo, an emerging international school of filmmakers picking up the breadcrumb trail left by 70s Argento that connects back to 60s Antonioni and Polanski, 50s Hitchcock, and 30s Cocteau, in the process baking up a beast that has Tennessee Williams' sparagmostically flayed wings, Jung's mythically fluid manticore "tail," and a single-first-person peeping tom keyhole crystal ball eye passed amongst its three gorgon hydra acidheads. Berberian Sound Studio, Amer, Boarding GateScarlet DivaThe Headless Woman are some of the other films that fit this unique niche (a style too paranoid to be acknowledged even by its originators): each artist devoted in its fashion to the paranoid-critical dissolution of sexual mores, the unsettling feeling of conspiracy that comes when the comfort of steady signifier-signified connectedness disappears and the "real" emerges like a strange tropical fruit that becomes--with a blink of the eye--a dead parrot.

Magic Magic taps into that Polanski mid-60s rabbit rotting-on-the-vine / Antonioni Red Desert paranoid feminine, finding the dead pigeon under glass on Judy Chicago flatware in a Yellow Wallpapered room surrounded on all sides by Lynchian buzzing, fecund jungles and horny dogs. The Crystal Fairy film is, for all its mystic leanings, more or less a conventional 'shitheel learns to respect others' moral tale (Rohmer on Roybal) as well as a very good look at what it's like to have a bad trip where your head's so far up your own ass that maybe you're depending far too much on the trip to cure all your crippling self-conscious depressive hangups in a single flash, but it doesn't work like that... as I know from bitter experience The San Pedro cactus-derived mescaline (in this case) only forces you to experience the full feedback squall of your own DSB venom. No one surrenders to the mystic without first a great deal of terror as reality dissolves and the horror, the horror, emerges as the wide-screaming abyss of the impermanent, that which dwells beyond all the bullshit walls you set up. So quick you have to try and make a friend of horror, and feel some genuine compassion for a change. The ancient Mayan gods demand full existential dissolution before they consider you initiated and show you the secrets of enlightened awareness. The farther we are from this baseline mortality awareness, the less 'alive' we feel, the more violent the breaking out of the faerie bower has to be, until the whole self splinters like a glass goblin back into its red, green, and blue component cables, back into the awareness/terror/impermanence of unprocessed signal.  If you're not ready for that dissolution of self, the Mescaline Gods' mystical awakening is really more of a reverse keelhauling, as your squirmy psyche is lifted out of its comfy depths and exposed to the sun and superegoic jeering in a northerly clockwork motion, and the comfort of the dark, murky underside of the ship longed for like a Linus blanket.

Crystal Fairy manages to get this exactly right, but in the process it reminds us that even if we're nowhere near as obnoxious as Cera or Crystal Fairy, compared to the easygoing balanced chill of bros and ladies of South America, we're all hinchapelotas.



At any rate, the photography is lovely. By the end we're managing to hallucinate into the beachfront rocks the way Dali used to do along the Costa Brava and if you've ever been stuck tripping with (or been) the Crystal Fairy type (patchouli, unshaven armpits and legs, ratty hippie hair, a PC den mother no one asked for) or the Cera type (can't shut off their motormouth solipsism for five minutes, "I'm getting off, are you getting off yet?") you may wince from the recognition, but at least you know Silva feels your pain. Apparently cast members did ingest the San Pedro cactus being depicted which may explain the lacksy-daisy narrative progression. I can imagine freaking out grandly with a big camera crew following me around as I frolicked on the beach, thinking I was making Citizen Kane but really making Hearts of Age. I would hate to be in that frame of mind and have to play an obnoxious twerp like Cera's comeuppance-craving Mr. "Magnificent" Anderson of a red pill psychedelic seeker as much as I would hate to trip with him; forsooth, methinks he is a wally. 

Cera handles the abuse well - but is there really a point? In its way, my problem with Crystal Fairy is the same as with Welles' Ambersons, i.e. a fatal misjudging of audience empathy for a particular actor that makes the film hard to watch, like a cookie filled with arsenic but they forgot the Sidney Falco sugar. So what's there to eat without the ice cream face? I have the same problem with both Ambersons and Lady from Shanghai -- in each case the entire point of both films seems to be to allow Welles the chance to play a larger-than-life egotistical swine but at the last minute he gives the plum role to someone else - and neither Tim Holt or Everett Sloane can fill Welles' mighty big shoes, and isn't that precisely why, unconsciously, he cast them?  


Magic Magic is the better of the films because Cera is only a side player, so his horrible lesion of a self-conscious shitheel matrix doesn't pollute our minds, only Alicia's, an American tourist even crazier than Crystal Fairy, but less obnoxious, way cuter, and played by the great Juno Temple. She's on a Blanche Dubois-goes-on-a-Repulsion vacation where, instead of isolation (with just a dead rabbit and rapist hallucinations), it's the lack of privacy that drives her mad. Expecting to have a restful visit with her American college exchange student buddy Sara (Emily Browning), she finds instead a car full of other people, including: Sara's local boy boyfriend Augustin (Agustín Silva), his sisteBábara (Catalina Sandino Moreno), and Cera, the Ugly American, speaking Spanish with ease but still unbearable, picking her up for a spontaneous holiday to some remote island before she can even unpack, not the kind of thing an exhausted probably bi-polar L.A. girl getting off a ten-hour flight wants. And it gets worse, suddenly Sara is called away for a 'test' and Cera is the only one to talk with, since she speaks no Spanish. And there's miles to go before she can sleep. Alicia's got to deal with all this life-affirming ease in one's own skin nonsense and it drives her mad like it did for Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven.

Things go downhill faster and faster, for her, anyway, and eventually we go from feeling her pain to theirs, because she can't blame it all on the bad cell phone reception, fear of water, alienation, insomnia, and being more-or-less a captive audience to any dumb animal that won't stop humping her leg.


I dig it - because I know well the feeling: tired from the trip, staying with a bunch of relaxed, groovy people who want to party all day and all night, thus preventing you from getting the 12 hours sleep you need to recover from an overnight flight. They seem to taunt you with their niceness. As the moody irritable lack-of-sleep depression kicks in, you begin to hate your fellow revelers for rubbing your lack of joie d'esprit in your face.

For me this was visiting friends up in Syracuse for the weekend, after I'd graduated. The people I stayed with invariably had cats and I'd be wheezing and gasping all night, depressed by lack of sleep and too much speedy Sudafed which made me intensely paranoid and didn't even really work. And then the auditory hallucinations: some girl in the kitchen might say to her cute single friend "can you pass the Pepsi?" I'd overhear it as something like "Erich has hep-C."  Which I don't, and I totally would have slept with her, too. Bitch be cockblocking. See? It's already too late - I now hate that girl who asked for a Pepsi, she's now a rumor-spreading bitch. Even though I, being a psychedelic veteran, KNEW I was having auditory hallucinations, I still hated her. Such great crazy oddness is what Dali's paranoid-criticism is all about. If you cultivate it, seek it out - dive into the madness rather than run from it. Do this and the world is yours. Once Carol takes up the razor in Repulsion she's no longer scared, see? She's free, hacked clear, carving a wall of human flesh, dragging the canoe behind her, beyond Ulmer's time barrier.


For the full effect of the paranoid-critique you need to see the preview for Magic Magic before you see the film because the preview makes it seem like a Most Dangerous Game meets Welcome to Arrow Beach meets Svengali horror movie instead of what it is, a Red Desert-style modernist melt-down mixed with I Walked with a Zombie-style poetic ambiguity -- a hard thing to pull off really well but Silva aces it--and the photography by the amazing DP Christopher Doyle only justifies his reputation; his stunning use saturated color (stark yellow raincoat against a purple-blue sea) makes the film look how one might imagine the Polanski mid-60s trilogy: Knife in the WaterRepulsion, and Cul-de-Sac would look in color. Hell yeah, Polanski and Val Lewton both would love Magic Magic.



Lastly, I know I've been mean, but it's only because I've been the Cera character, desperately hoping a psychedelic trip will bring me out of my self-absorbed shell, wanting to feel as happy and interconnected as everyone around me seems and not being able to get there no matter how high I get. Only in AA did I learn that everyone feels that way, just not as painfully so they just muddle past it rather than overdoing it in a vain hope some old magic will return. Then you learn that Ego can't be burned off by taking too much of anything. You can't fight it, only coax it into giving up on its own via being nice to other people, through empathy, through service, sharing your story, honestly, therapy, 12-steps and self-expression. 

Or you can have it flayed off you like your skin in an Ilsa She Wolf of the SS torture room. Damn straight, fuck sobriety! Drugs don't always work, but writing about how drugs don't always work does, which brings us to this moment: Back in the 90s, the downtown Manhattan lounge scene, flitting from one exotic storefront lounge to the next in my tuxedo jacket and feather boa, wondering if the K I'd snorted was working, struggling vainly towards feeling spontaneous and free, and failing even when ecstasy was flowing in bumps right off the table and I was dancing with lovely ladies while Moby and Fancy spun away and the city beamed up at us from Windows on the World, even with all that it was as if some heavy blanket of strained artificiality was choking the joi de vivre right out of me-- but every August my roommate would jet off to Ibiza leaving me to try vainly one more time to drink myself to death, and then in October---when New York City is the best place to be on Earth--whomever he'd crashed with there would come visit NYC and stay at our place, and suddenly the clouds of despair would lift - these Brits or Venezuelans or Germans could get all of us united, dancing, alive, happy, in love with the scene, joyous. Feeling so real, at last.

Then they'd be gone again... the same alien disconnect denial malaise would descend. 

I guess it could have been worse. What if we didn't even know how in despair we'd been?

We might have been Michael Cera.  


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Laureate of the Laid: Terry Southern, CANDY (1968)

Life is a latticework of coincidence, whether we see it or not. Usually we don't want to --we're worried we'd go crazy if we did. With our blinders up, thankfully, the coincidence matrix scans less a pineal gland-buzzing 9-dimensional grid of raw wave energy and more as abstract, meaningless white noise with the odd splotch of identifiable pattern-- a word lining up with a word you're reading or writing or saying at the same second someone on TV is saying it--that comes and goes long before any deciphering of the cosmic hidden message can ensue. But dig this: when you're alight with manic magic or 'awakened' or 'enlightened' or 'tripping balls' or schizophrenic, or a genius, then every single goddamn moment of conscious existence holds a hundred thousand such linkages, stretching from your mind into the screen and out to America and into your own cellular biology and macro and micro fractal-ing out and in, through the past and future, and in higher dimensions than we can consciously perceive, except through the metatextual incorporation of media.

Whether or not we can handle it, this interconnectivity exists like vast and unknowable tendril lattice matrix betwixt our eyes, ears, TV, film, music (only what is currently playing in that moment) and the outermost limits of one's living room and mind. It's all connected to the point of Rubik's Cube inextricability; the retinal screen tattoos the mind and the DVD spins as if a windmill testament to our mind's ability to perceive shapes, faces, voices, targets. Every single element of perceived external and internal reality is an interconnected 'other' staring back at "us" as blankly as we stare at TV commercials, perking up only when we're going through emotional extremes. This 'other' groans in boredom if we don't keep it entertained, as much as vice versa. If we behold its gaze directly we're either dead or insane, but art, baby....art... Art gives us the Perseus Medusa mirror shield by which to cautiously glimpse that which we cannot behold head-on, that which the blinders are there to block. In other words, we can keep our blinders on but widen our perception at the same time.

Mandrake, isn't it true that on no account will a commie ever take a drink of water?

And not without good reason!

When these latticework lightbulbs are flashing atop each pylon neuron 'round the pineal car wreck, that is (presuming fluoridation hasn't encrusted it), one turns naturally to Terry Southern. America's dirty Swift, the Texas Voltaire, the Watergate Lubitsch, the Lenny Bruce of Lauded Literary Lustful Libertinism, the acidhead Brecht, the Ayatollah of cock rock lit. Southern took the ball from randy sordid authors like Nabokov, Poe and Henry Miller and threw it straight through the Cuban Missile Crisis' fire hoop, shattering the speed of the three martini lunch glass bottom end zone and through the Hindu deity receiver's fifth and sixth arms, scoring the free-love mind game psychedelic put-on touchdown. True anarchy of spirit finds full flower of expression in his R-rated Marx Brothers protozoic chest-thumping. His scripts and/or original novels for films like Barbarella, Candy, The Loved One, The End of the Road, and Dr. Strangelove mix jet black humor with guilt-free sex, bawdy anarchy, trenchant satire, coded anti-Vietnam rants, un-PC skirt chasing, grim apocalypse and vintage slapstick in ways that make the puerile inanity of today's sex comedy seem tragically anemic.   

Maybe you don't, but I remember the year that the book The Rules reaffixed a heavy price tag to free love. It was the first time most girls actually bought a book in decades. Makes on think about how much sex would be in books if not for the juicy free press provided by censorship. Dirty books once were banned in many countries (including ours), and were therefore exceedingly popular. Authors like Burroughs, Southern, and Nabokov could make fast money churning them out for Parisian small presses, which were then smuggled into America as 'imported' erotica. Lax censorship in our current age on the other hand has strangely led to a second Puritanism, reminding one of the clean-cut Nazis rising up from the ancient Rome-style decadence of Weimar Germany. Southern is from an era when 'adult' cinema was adult--by adults for adults--and not the sole purview of 'endearingly' foul-mouthed nerdy immature boys. Literary lions have no place on our bookshelves now, except on library shelves, where erotica isn't always welcome. And more and more, old dead straight dirty white guys are being scissored from college reading lists. As a result, erotica now seems the result only of immaturity and a small vocabulary, a sad association from which it may never recover.

This putsch of maturity and learnedness from the realm of sex may seem a victory to the easily deluded PC snobs of the Ivory Tower, but they've never been good at spotting coincidence latticework anyway, their pineal glands being so fluoride-encrusted they're blind to even the idea of blindness. They've forgotten that when intellectual satire is volleyed at sacred institutions, exposing the truth of the latticework to all our awakened horror, it destroys only the dead cells within, leaving the rest vibrant and now hip enough to incorporate its own critique. Only the mundane and banal need fear. Meanwhile the potty-mouthed prattle of today's grown infants is never a threat to the higher-ed gestapo and can indeed be yoked to the PC mafia's repressive practices, encouraging said banal literati that not one dead cell shall slough off from the obese corpse of "literature."

Jane Fonda - Barbarella
Thus Southern, the Alvarado Swinburne, the heterosexual Wilde, was obscene only to illuminate the truer obscenities of religion, Washington, the pertro-chemical industrial complex, the funeral industry, the American military, Wall Street, academia, the American Medical Association, even the counterculture of which he was an active part. His was the the voice of the savage American expatriate id, run aground in Paris after the War, like the Lost Generation before him. First he attended the Sorbonne on the GI Bill, then became a Paris Review co-founder, then a dirty book writer full of unbeatable Bugs Bunny trickster tactics, then a black comic screenwriter. Willing to look deep into the obscene eye of humanity without blinking, or even judging, his adults-only humor wasn't aimed at naughty boys of fifteen, but real live adults, with deep smoker's voices, at least one STD to their credit, maybe a few scars from the war, and a level of maturity we no longer see today (think Johnny Carson's smooth elan vs. Jimmy Fallon's beer-bloated fanboy gushing or even Animal House vs. The Bunny -- and WEEP for an America that will one day make even Jonah Hill seem a stalwart fount of manly gravitas).


If there's still an author with 'adult' intellect left standing after the PC putsch (begun in the 90s --I was there), if there's a scribe yet able to be lusty without merely lapsing into unconscious misogyny, that author is well-hidden, and would never dare come forward until said putsch hath passed. One day he (or she --why the hell not?) may write a book that could bring us out of this maturity death spiral, or that could be made into a film like Candy, which seems to condone molestation, drugging women without their knowledge, borderline rape, etc., but seems is the key word in that sentence. Men now feel so bad for saying no to a relationship after saying yes to sex that we'd just as soon pre-empt the whole thing. I mean how else are you going to know, for sure, you don't want to go out with a girl unless you sleep with her first? But that's 'wrong' now. Not back then, apparently! Back then no one was meant to feel bad at all; even a man chasing a girl young enough to be his daughter around the room, his tongue hanging out, honking like Harpo Marx, was under no unseen liberal arts lash of penitence.

Well, if you neuter your satiric watchdog, he may stop humping your leg and peeing in the corners, but he's also apt to hide when the burglars of phony morality and 'sacred' patriarchy show up, thus making his entire existence superfluous. And those burglars he lets in are actually squatters who once ensconced within your walls will linger until they've worn your masculinity down to a mawkish enfeebled little nub, until all you have left are James Bond marathons and then only when your wife is away at spin class. When you hear her car pulling into the garage you quick change the channel to PBS, and bury your nose innocently in The New Yorker. And then, only then, will said squatters leave you to your misery.

You know what I'm trying to say: the institutional targets most deserving of take-down sit smugly behind walls of standards and practice policies, while once-proud writers are assigned stories of mundane consensual love affairs between rational adult celebrities who just happen to be married (albeit to other people). All bawdiness is now relegated to teenagers at band camp or softcore puerility on late night cable, and anyone who texts the wrong person at the wrong hour risk having their texts read aloud on CNN or sent around to all her friends.

And yet, do we think we can shame human nature? No matter how much PC lip service they pay, chicks still pick the brutish lothario over the sensitive poet, most of the time. What's the point of being a feminist if it doesn't get you laid? It took me 20 years to figure out what Terry Southern knew all the time. Intellectual writers could be just as wild, chest-thumping, and aggressively sexual as any jock, greaser, thug, or motorcyclist. We didn't used to associate the male college intellect with pussywhipped PC enfeeblement, is my point. I despise what's passing for a 'men's movement' these days, and their vile misogynistic corners of the web, but that world has nothing to do with Southern's, any more than a rabid Chihuahua to do with an Alaskan wolf pack.

The vanishing of Southern's pack, then, is a reminder perhaps that writers are not allowed groupies anymore, or if they have them they must either hide that fact lest it compromise their nebbish image, or boast like douche bags. Most comic talents lament their loserdom, their failure with women, their small dicks. Reduced to the status of a shiftless older sibling in the home by their ballbusting mom and her incestuous darling son, dads turn back to their buddies for support: bromance, and gay jokes, whistling in the hetero foxhole dark as women become more and more unapproachable, let alone molestable (Jody Hill's Observe and Report a rare, glorious exception). When we do see a famous comic in a standard groupie hook-up, its presented in the most mutually demeaning manner possible (ala Adam Sandler in Funny People).

In France and England (or Argentina) on the other hand, writers can be pot-bellied, balding, too drunk to even make it to the party plane but they're allowed sex, groupies, and lovely ladies on each arm. and they feel no reason to brag or feel bad or be made to look sleazy or pathetic. Smart is sexy over there. Or was last I checked. Or so I hear.

Southern centered
Southern's oeuvre now represents an era where it may have been a little sneaky getting some bird into bed but it was under the rubric that both of them would have a good time, no one would be 'slut-shamed', and that free love was just that - especially if you were a friend of the Beatles. So the high-functioning gropers of Candy may come from Southern perhaps witnessing blokes gone instantly from birdless to beflocked with a single hit record and noted the accompanying changes in their sexual drive and finesse or lack thereof. It's easy to be a stud when you're not actually getting any offers; once the girl makes it plain she's up for a roll in the way, once the free room and bed are located, and once pants come off--then all sorts of embarrassing equipment failures can manifest. Cialis for daily use is still decades away, erection-deflating coke dust in the party plane air ducts, and groupies impatiently waiting, their plaster cast a-drying more with every flaccid minute.... It's no wonder men have to boast later to their bros --getting the entire deed right, from first eye contact to putting clothes back on and sneaking back downstairs, to satisfy her needs as well as your own without fumbling the condom, losing the erection, and making it all seem organic --it's no easy task.

All of which is an elaborate, rambling set-up for my discussion of Candy (1968) because even in contemporary America's chilly intolerant climb we wouldn't dream of calling Ringo Starr or Marlon Brando a dirty womanizer, or Richard Burton or James Coburn a pathetic joyless bathroom groupie humper -- which is one of the reasons their characters' over-the-top sexual harassment, abuse of patriarchal authority, even medical malpractice, flourishes into full subversive flower here in ways that would be too unappetizing if ugly hairy-backed plebeians were doing it. That Brando, Coburn and Burton, particularly, lampoon themselves and their status' and profession's own most private (dirty) groupie-trawling here should brook no scolding. Indeed, should be celebrated!

Especially when juxtaposed with modern stuff like HBO's use of graphic rutting which stresses the more mutually demeaning and bestial aspects of sex, Southern's brand of erotica is positively life-affirming. He takes the Voltaire hint and presents the sex drive, and the naked body with all its hairs and gasses, as incorruptible and forgiven all trespass. Ultimately, what is being satirized is the sexual repression that forces men to strike comically unaffected postures before lunging at a passing hottie naif, and the way all their strutting oratory just make them all the more ridiculous once their trousers are halfway off, for no amount of bluster and male pride can smooth the awkward transition from civilized gentleman to a spastically humping mastiff. One look at today's conservative hysteria over birth control on one end, liberal PC lockstep on the other, and the Joy of Sex deflates to a pleasant moment before acres of guilt and anxiety.

And as far as movies are concerned, the kind of ravishment women like to read about in some of the more disreputable Harlequin offshoots is completely out. One false step and you wind up being demonized in a Lifetime movie.


Though only based on Southern's original novel (co-written with Southern's fellow Parisian ex-pat and Olympia Press dirty-lit writer Mason Hoffenberg), adapted for the film by American satirist Buck Henry (coming hot off The Graduate), directed by Christian Marquand (a French actor, as odd and illogical a choice for an American satire as Mike Sarne for Myra Breckinridge [1970]) and filmed by a French-Italian crew, Candy seems quintessentially Southern at first, standing alongside Dr. Strangelove as a savagely honest critique of America's noisemaker patriotism, its drug-fueled paranoiac flipside and the sexual puritanism that underwrites both. Kicking things off, Burton is mind-blowingly grand, spectacularly pathetic, and thoroughly hilarious as McPhisto, a grandiose 'dirty-minded' poet making his first appearance, wind in the hair, electric rock blaring, at a student assembly attended by Candy (Ewa Aulin), setting the mechanisms in motion. Brilliantly modulating a cascade of punch lines in a cue card rhythm  - "I wrote that," he says after reading his first poem, long hair and scarf blowing, "laying near death... in a hospital bed...  in the Congo... after being...savagely beaten... by a horde of outraged Belgian tourists." His fluid Welsh wit makes great rolling use of pauses and accented words as he orates, speaking in Latin only to admit he's not quite sure if it means anything, mentioning his books have been "banned or burned in over 20 countries... and fourteen... developing nations." Shifting from famous genius poature to hangdog contrition as he mentions his book is available... signed by the author... for three dollars... in cash or money order, even bringing Welsh florid anguish to the mailing address, culminating in "Lemmington, New Jersey."

Burton, orating with creepy alien hybrid
Candy: "Oh my gosh, (watching Burton fall out of the car, soaked in whiskey) he's a mess!
Zero: "Well man, that's the story of love."
Moments later MacPhisto has Candy in the back of his Benz (indeed there's the idea he came there expressly to pick out a nubile co-ed) while Zero (Sugar Ray Robinson) drives, though there seems to be a kind of understanding that they share the automobile and like to get into sexual adventures together ala Don Juan and Leporello (switching roles nightly, perhaps). "Candy - beautiful name," McPhisto says as prelim to his attack. "It has the spirit and the sound of the old testament." A Scotch spigot in his glass bottom Benz gets turned on by accident, and McPhisto winds up crawling around at Candy's feet, booming on about his 'giant, throbbing need' and pathetically lapping spilled Scotch off the floor, getting it on his trousers, and ending up in Candy's basement with his pants off, heroically making love to a doll that looks eerily like abductee descriptions of alien-human hybrids, all while reciting random verses and sobbing heroically; Ringo Starr is a Mexican gardener (terrible enough with his half-assed Alfonso "Stinking Badges" Bedoya-by-way-of-Speedy-Gonzalez accent to be a real adult film actor) paws at Candy on the pool table, all while Zero (Sugar Ray Robinson) helps himself to the basement bar while dispensing bon mots ("Quo Vadis, baby!"), beaming so approvingly at the crazy scene methinks I was in the kind of hetero-camp heaven I once believed the sole province of Russ Meyer!

Alas, the MacPhisto adventure is the best part of the entire film and even that is marred in the second part by Ringo's terrible performance.  Luckily John "Gomez" Astin kicks it back into some sort of gear as Candy's swinger uncle, setting up a nice contrast to his square twin brother (Candy's father, also Astin). Uncle's nymphomaniac swinger-in-furs quipster wife Livia (Elsa Martinelli) tells Candy she'll like New York, where kids "aren't afraid to scratch when it itches" but a drive to the airport finds them all accosted by Ringo's three sisters riding up on motorcycles, their long black veils fluttering behind them for a brilliant wicked witch of the west / harpy / Valkyrie / flying nun effect --another high point though once the whips and brass knuckles come out, the film starts to just hang there, they don't know what to do with the scene. They grab the first plane that happens by and run into Walter Matthau, miscast as a deranged Albanian-hating airborne paratroop general (it should have been George C. Scott or Lee Marvin -- who ever heard of a New York pinko Jewish-intellectual general?) and since when would a general waste his rank in control of only a planeload of shock troops? Matthau knows how to keep deadpan when mocking military patriotism, but his cadence as he rambles on about having a kid with Candy and sending it to military school lacks the kind of deranged jingoistic ring that Scott brought to both Patton and Turgidson or Sterling Hayden to Ripper, it's just depressing to imagine his scenario coming true, that poor kid.

But Candy's next adventure is one of the greats, involving James Coburn's toreador Hackenbush-ish brain surgeon Dr. Krankheit ("This is a human life we're tinkering with here, man, not a course in remedial reading!"). Coburn's histrionic operating theatrics might seem a bit Benway-esque but Burroughs was a friend of Southern's and Coburn has the spirit of the thing in the way, say, David Niven never did in Casino Royale. Like Burton, Coburn modulates Shakespearian antithesis and masculine actorly power, seizing the chance to let his sacral chakras vibrate and hum. Aside from Burton, he's the only other star in the film's luminary cast to recognize the covert brilliance buried in even the most seemingly mundane lines (which Matthau breezes right over) and to let each word ring like freedom's infernal bell. Amping up his patented actorly mannerisms to conjure a physician as a liberated but insane as any before or since, accusing the operating theaterr audience of thinking what he was a moment ago just saying--throwing his scalpel to the floor and just sticking his finger right into the comatose Astin's brain (one slip and the patient "will be utterly incapable of digit dialing"), saluting the crowd with his bloody middle finger in triumph, in short, my friend, Coburn is MAGNIFICENT!

And just when it can't get any better, Anita Pallenberg (alas, dubbed, as she was in Barbarella) appears as Krankheit's number one nurse; Buck Henry cameos as a mental patient in a straitjacket trying to attack Candy in the elevator; John Huston shows up as a prurient administrator who seems to get off trying to shame Candy in front of the entire post-op party after she's caught being molested by her uncle. Krankheit dispenses B12-amphetamine cocktail shots and the pink-clad nurses wait around like beholden nuns in some religious spectacle. Coburn's medical innovations include a 'female' electrical socket affixed to the back of Candy's father's head, so he can drain off the excess wattage while powering a small radio. Again, the kind of thing that modern films would not approve of, i.e. how dare you satirize a litigious, lawyered and humorless institution like the AMA, sir!? Sir... Sir?

Candy - w/ James Coburn and Anita Pallenbeg 
From then on, alas, the film's mostly downhill: a scene with a trio of groping Mafioso and a crazy Italian stereotype-a filmmaker is just crude, pointless and skippable; ditto the shocked cops playing up their blue collar bewilderment at all the pre-versions (shades of Col. Bat Guano) as they bash frugging drag queens, crack nightsticks down on hippies, and wind up crashing the squad car because they can't help leering down Candy's dress. As usual, the dialogue is interesting but the targets too easily lampooned, like yeah we know cops are jerks, man. Why not have the cops be groovy, just to be weird, man? But it being 1968, I guess cop-bashing was still subversive. Now, though, the blue collar drooling thug cop angle comes off almost more like class-based snobbery.

After a romp in Central Park, Candy joins up with a criminal mastermind hunchback (Charles Aznavour), who can climb up walls and jump into watery windows ("an old stereoscopic trick" says the unimpressed cops), all well and good but Aznavour's aggressively twitchy rat-like Benigni-Feldman-style behavior eats up another soul-deadening stretch, centered around a gag you'll see coming a mile off (if you've seen Godfather 2 - which admittedly came after).


Candy finally winds up in the holy water-flooded mobile ashram of the guru Grindl --played by Marlon Brando. Half-baked and not quite at the level of Burton or Coburn--his voice stuck in a congested limbo between Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson and Abie the Fish Peddler from Animal Crackers, his Indian accent ends up just sounding Jewish, mining the rhythm of Lenny Bruce as Groucho or Alan Arkin as played by Sky Masterson to settle a wager. Brando's way too internalized and self-righteous for this Grindl to reach the egotistic grandeur of Burton's McPhisto or Coburn's Krankheit (better Brando himself be a character satirized by some other actor). When he says you 'must travel beyond thirst, beyond hunger" while eating a sausage he sounds just like Hugh Herbert, which is great, but it's such a dick move not to share the food that it's hard to feel anything but a sympathy headache and since by then the movie's cresting the two hour mark, with plenty more vignettes to go, you almost certainly will be ready to just smack someone.


Shocking and racist as it might be for an actor of Brando's caliber and political leanings to appear in brownface while noshing on a sausage and floating phony guru raps to some blonde in the trailer equivalent of a shag carpeted party van, just remember he (and Burton) liked working in big budget European adult films at the time, to almost ex-pat consistency (when adult meant adult, remember) making things like Last Tango in Paris, and Bluebeard (both 1972, both X-rated) for abroad they could be free to drink, eat, smoke and screw to excess without having to hide it all lest America's post-Puritan pressure cooker explode all over them.

Which brings me to my final thought bubble--the idea central to Candy's Christian values--which begins with what MacPhisto says in the beginning about being willing to giving oneself freely as the height of human grace. Sure it's a line men use to try and get women into bed but if they didn't try, where would humanity be?  And as Lenny Bruce would say, that's the true difference between obscenity and humanity. The truth of our 'huge, throbbing need' is unendurable any other way except as a joke that paradoxically lets us save face and free ourselves of its throbbing burden. It's the last bastion of the healthy human body's societal failings, the hairy gorilla remnant that can't be hidden underneath the seersucker suit. We need a forgiving tolerance of this gorilla, because if we denude the beast of his business suit only to sneer at him or deliver some drab lecture on morals or objectification, all we do is bum everyone out, we become just another nag.

In sticking to his obscene guns, Southern proves 'nothing sacred' is itself the most sacred of philosophies, that there's nothing bad about the human biological system with all its warty needs. Let it be satirized but never condemned. Let only unkind hypocrisy be attacked without mercy.

"We are not old men. We are not worried about your petty morals." - KR, in deposition
To sum up: Candy comes from a time when intellectual men were still allowed to be men, and hipsters were not pale smirking skinny jeans wallies crossing the street to avoid second hand smoke or arguing in a mawkish voice against plastic bags at the food co-op. Southern's era had more repression and obscenity laws to reckon with, but they had the artistic clout to bash into them with dicks swinging and fists helicoptering. If Southern and friends had been at that food-co-op meeting they would be hurling the organic produce at that anemic hipster, bellowing like a lion, inhaling every kind of smoke presented. Back in their own time all they could do instead was rage against the dying of their pre-Viagra erections, and then die for real, as nature intended, either in WW2 or Vietnam or that Norman Maine surf from which no faded reprobate returns. Rather than clinging to bare life like today's greedy octogenarians, bankrupting Medicare so they can eke out one more month (the impatient specter waiting in the reception area, rereading that old Us Weekly for the eleven hundredth time while doctors stall out the clock since they're getting richer by the hour), they died like men!

Real hipsters of the older era--having faced death abroad or within, heroically dodged the draft or fought the war, leapt into the waiting arms of the angry fuzz, or served jail time for a single joint--earned their aliveness and their stash of war-issued amphetamine; they were able to dig on and understand out-there modern jazz, and to smoke anywhere, including the doctor's office. They lingered at the moveable feast of expat Paris, armed with coffee, whiskey, Moroccan hashish, burgundy and, if they pilgrimaged south, the holy yage or the magic mushroom. Today we're lucky if we can afford a single Sex on the Beach and there's no smoking, sir... sir.... no smoking (and in NYC no dancing either).

I'm not arguing against women's rights, or equality, or clean air, or any of the huge strides we've taken, just wondering if perhaps in revisiting Candy the film we can, as a nation, whisper "Rosebud" for our lost sleddy balls and rediscover how well-read intellectual weight might once again benefit from rabid id-driven boosters in trying to make it through the zipper of hypocrisy and into the erect stratosphere. Southern was the first to climb up on the A-bomb of sexual freedom in lettres and ride the New Journalism (which he co-invented) to the primary target, which is your face, and he had the chops to turn on your electric lattice of coincidence-detectors, because he knew America was still strong enough to handle any amount of MASH-style shower tent unveiling. He trusted America still knew that facing its own monstrous extinction with a joke rather than duck-and-cover rhetoric was noble, that working through the terror that strikes when a hot blonde girl with no discernible income lands in your lap (rather than running home to your wife in terror) is heroic, that being able to accept and engage in casual sex with a random girl on your commuter train is brave, while brandishing your wedding ring like a cross and racing out at the next stop is not. Gentlemen, we cannot allow... a NYMPHOMANIAC gap!

From Left: Burroughs, Southern, Ginsberg, Genet

NOTES:
1. Southern's mincing gay stereotypes (espec. in The Magic Christian and The Loved One)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Choose Death: Revisiting TWILIGHT's Junky Delirium.


"Young girl with fire / something said she understood /
I wanted to fly / she made me feel like I could...." 
- Neil Diamond  ("Shilo" - song about his imaginary friend /childhood anima])

"But we can fly... with these!" -  John Lennon 
(showing heroin pills [?] to Yoko  - John and Yoko: A Love Story TVM- 1985)

"You're like my own private brand of heroin"
--Edward Cullen (to Bella) 

"When you're on junk you don't drink" - W.S. Burroughs (Junky)

"I never drink... wine." - Dracula

"My name is Bela Lugosi... I've been a morphine addict for twenty years."
-- (Martin Landau) - Ed Wood

Bella, flanked by cumbersome breathers
Vampirism is every young girl's dream, presuming she's smart enough to realize her 'fairest of them all' Snow Whiteness will wither to mirror-mirror aging diva tantrums before she even knows what hit her, so she should lock it down if she can. If she be faire of feature and smart enough to know it, to see when a hottie in the mirror looketh back, then she knows--if she's ever to bid surcease time's incessant wrinkly pawing--now would be a damn good time. Small price to pay, killing off your inner Snow White youth via the lugubrious huntsman, if it means no wrinkles, or baggy eyes, or weight gain, ever.

And if there's no such thing as vampirism or eternal youth, well, some drugs come a close second.

Slowing time to a crawl, killing the appetite and sleep cycle, certain addictive drugs give one the feeling of invincible confidence. Slipping off the leaden coat of teenage insecurity with ease, sliding beyond the mortal concerns of human body maintenance, drugs, love, and vampirism replace glazed-eyed homogenous breather-eater lockstep with an unending thirst, but it's worth it... for some of us. Some of us never feel comfortable in our own skin until we puncture it. If we have to keep puncturing until we're trackmarked to open sore ribbons, well, the alternative is worse. For some of us, the thought of living an extra ten years as a senior citizen is a fate literally worse than death, to watch one's Twitter following stagnate, one's zeitgeist fade, the glint of desire going out of the eye of passers-by on the street. By the time we know how to use what we've got, it's gone. We realize only when it's absent that something was, indeed, present. Whether that's an illusion ("happiness is never experienced, only remembered" - old AA proverb)

For the first four films of the Twilight saga, despite her boy coterie's protestations, Bella wisely wants to get undead while she's still got that pale flawless skin (her mothers' already shows the results of age and prolonged sun), and that is just one reason why I believe the series so subversive. Bella chooses death. She subverts the fairy tale maturity myth, jamming a crowbar into the wheel of her own maturity. Her saga dually functions not a  coming-of-age story but a stalling-of-age and a kind of alcoholic-addict fantasia wherein the enchanted bower is returned to out of clear conscience. She's hip to the banality of 'the right choice.' You can argue she merely chooses Edward (Robert Pattinson) and death goes with the deal. You can argue he's a pretty creepy specimen (old enough to be her great-great grandfather, stalking her and watching her sleep all night after climbing in the window) but he's not a real person. He's a daemon lover / arrested animus projection --her unconscious. Their wedding represents a union of Self, but it's a stunted self. The Twilight saga doesn't reflect the move from bleak Cinderella attic to magic pumpkin coach to married princess -- which would mirror a girl's transition from child to adulthood (the beast becoming the prince)-- but the reverse. Bella moves from sunny Phoenix to the ever-cloudy Forks, like Cinderella choosing to move out of the sunny castle and back to her cozy attic. In that sense the series is more a Greek tragedy, wherein unresolved past issues come burbling up to drag our heroine back down. But there's also a conscious decision on her part to make this journey, and that makes all the difference. There's that Joseph Campbell mantra of "when falling, dive." Bella is a Snow White who makes the conscious decision to go back to sleep because she can't be bothered with an awake Prince Charming's cumbersome breathing, snoring, bathroom issues, and beastly eating habits, not to mention all the boring functions one must endure when a member of roytlaty. Her demon lover never plays X-Box with his loud buddies all day. He doesn't even have a TV. He reads books. 

And the idea that Edward has nothing else in his life to do other than read, and to stalk her, protecting her always, is creepy sure, but also relevant to the daemonic animus. The ego to the dark half of us, the animus/anima slumbers while our daily waking egoic consciousness goes about its day, and then arises at night to conduct the dance, the anima/animus is the one who literally has no life without us. There is no sun or blue sky for the anima/animus. It can only run loose when our conscious is asleep (or, if we're artists and writers, performers or mystics or schizophrenics, truly awake). Edward's daemon lover archetype ancestry stretches back to grim roots, down deep to Eros and Psyche and up through the Romantic poetry of Keats and Shelley, the daemon undead druggy lovers of Coleridge, Poe and La Fanu finally up to the Anne Rice 90s before climbing up to the ultimate teenage Gothic animus, and a vivid portrait of a junky or alcoholic in the early stages of withdrawal, Edward. His reactions to her when they're first paired together in science class are the most accurate depiction of early stage withdrawal I've ever seen. And I should know.

I recently re-watched the entire series as it was all playing on one cable channel or other last month, and after the entirety of around 12 hours of film it definitely holds up, especially if you really like dark purples, and I love them. And lastly, it's great because, for me at least, it's guilt-free, there's no objectification of the females, rather we have a rare example of the 'female gaze' and the sole sex appeal comes from the boys, which does nothing for me turn-on wise, hence no guilt. Rather it compels me to realize that maybe my vague discomfort is how most women go through their movie watching life, enduring vast stretches of sexist characters and bloody gunfights. In Twilight: New Moon Bella goes to the local cinema with her mortal, age-appropriate friend Jessica (Anna Kendrick) and coming out laments how crappy the film was, mainly as there's "No hot guys kissing anybody." Imagine, a film daring to lament such a shallow thing. Then I remember Dracula again, Bela Lugosi commenting on the film's appeal to women:
 "It is women who bear the race in bloody agony. Suffering is a kind of horror. Blood is a kind of horror. Women are born with horror in their very bloodstream... It is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it..." 
And also, in a way, it is the woman in me, my own dream lover anima, my ego's dark unconscious shadow, who loves Bella as a projector screen for herself, as it allows her in turn to look out through my eyes and then through Bella's eyes, for each anima and animus has their own inner daemons to work through, and so it goes, in fractals either direction. My anima rewards me with dreams of paradise (which for some reason is a cavernous sub basement under my suburban childhood/teenager neighbor's house hot springs with concrete floors and strange books on benches and vague memories of having a fling with the mother, who is not the same mother who actually lived there. Her husband's always away, and if I can find my way down there, she meets me if so inclined. I've never gotten even to first with her (it's not that kind of dream) but I wake up thrilled, longing to recapture my memories of this hidden underground sanctuary. It looks like a cross between some secret room in a Vincent Price movie, the basement lair of Hammer's THE REPTILE, and Carfax Abbey's ruined Gothic basement and Bellevue's old hydrotherapy room.

And maybe I am prejudiced; Dracula is my favorite horror character. Bela Lugosi is my favorite horror actor, and next to William S. Burroughs, also my favorite junky. And even Bella's name conjures him, so it's sad that so many critics I normally respect tow the party line with the Twilight series, never seeing past the 'teen phenomenon' hooplah. Meanwhile these critics respect, some even revere, the more boy-friendly Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings/Hobbit, and Star Wars sagas, which have twenty films between them (so far) and about that same number of  lines spoken by women. Unless they're princesses to be admired from afar, to be kissed before they turn out to be your own sister, and so forth, women seem to be unwelcome in these franchises, yet these films get way more respect in general critical consensus. I can only guess Twilight's detractors are nerds who've never done drugs, or had more than one girl or boy interested in them at the same time.

If you're like me, with a loud, bothersome anima who withholds great sentence structure and inspiration from your writing on a whim, then you know she loves movies that feature crazy women she can project onto; and so you know she will reward thee with vast acres of flowing prose when she gets to lock onto an Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted or a Natalie Portman in Black Swan, or a Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion, or even Anthony Perkins in Psycho. (Right at the moment I wrote his name, Bogie says "You're a good man, sister" behind me - synchronicitous!)  Twilight's rife with such crazy feminine energy. My anima loves that it is not life-affirming but a solid romantic mood poem-- tortured as Edward Burne-Jones trying to score laudanum at the strip mall-- and an exoneration of the death wish underwriting everything from self-cutting and anorexia to just partying like there's no tomorrow or even just sleeping late and missing school, going from rainy day Gloomy Sunday blues to hooking up with a pallid junky and getting involved in 'the life,' understanding what that means, fully cognizant of all that will be lost, yet nonetheless daring to answer 'not to be' when Hamlet asks his mortal question. To not only dive when you fall, but to choose to fall... that is the only way we can prove to ourself we're actually free not to.


Only rubes would think such a choice false next to the demands of the life-choosing next-stage animus, i.e. the result when woman's demonic lover turns to paternal inner critic and lecturer, who endorses sanctified institutions without question, trusts doctors, school principals, fathers, husbands, and politicians over her own better judgment, belittling her husband, mistaking the vehemence of her emotional response to a stimuli for its importance. This new animus argues over SUV parking spots at the kids' soccer practice, feels the need to remodel the kitchen, honor PTA appointments, hire babysitters, monitor their children's friend choices, and even approve her own gradual arrival at an assisted living domicile. Tradition and boredom are championed as worthy in themselves as her staid animus gives her a feeling of total belief in her anti-demonic stance. We can see women dominated by this stage of the animus in the Tea Party -- Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin, and Ann Coulter -- they let their animus possess them even at the expense of their own gender's liberty, it's just as much about being 'captured' by the animus now as it was at the Edward stage, only now its not interesting. It's only near the final 'second childishness' stage of Shakespeare's seven ages that the younger daemon lover animus returns, to shepherd these 'healthy' choice-making woman into the void. This is even pictured in New Moon, wherein Bella dreams of being all super old and Edward as young as ever, waiting patiently all this time for her to be done with the 'living' he so wishes for her. 

To understand the beauty of Bella's rejection of this fate requires perhaps the mindset of the addict, living in a world of fantasy and altered perceptions, the sort of girl who stays upstairs reading fantasy novels when the sun's out or the one who's depressed and in misery until a hot older drug dealer and his drugs combine to sweep her off her feet. They commit to their daemon lover, refuse to let him go, to consign him to dreams barely had anymore. Sure the choice to stick with this demonic animus is not healthy but who cares? The women who choose to keep their daemon as their animus are our romantic heroines in the truest sense; forsaking the daemon may allow them to exit the fantasy and enter the social order (to upgrade animus projections), but who needs another normal well-adjusted girl? Not the readers and seers and livers-in of fantasy. 
"Many myths and fairy tales tell of a prince, who has been turned into an animal or a monster by sorcery, being saved by a woman. This is a symbolic representation of the development of the animus toward consciousness. Often the heroine may ask no questions of her mysterious lover, or she is only allowed to meet him in darkness..." - Marie-Louise von Franz

 Reality is seldom operating anywhere close to a teenager's inner state. Myths are truer than reality in that sense; they are not at all sentimental, for as Jung notes: "Sentimentality is a superstructure covering brutality" (i.e. John Ford). Myths are terrifying because they unveil that which was hidden for a reason. They are beguiling, addictive; once the light is shown over that shadowed corner of the psyche, the grateful prisoner chained in that corner rewards you with hordes of little treasures its stolen from you on the sly ever since you chained him there (usually around your first day of school): bottles of endorphins and dopas and artistic inspiration its fermenting for just such an illumination. Gradually he gives out less and less for more and more liberty to run rampant in your psyche, doing more damage, costing you jobs, friends, and lovers. There's no line between being rewarded with one's own stolen treasures and mistaking them for gifts and being held hostage in the zone between a daemonic dream lover's ardent wooing and crippling drug addiction, the result either way is a delirious Stockholm syndrome high if you know how to treat the agonies and despair of withdrawal as just another kind of masochistic kick, the muscle ache and burning skin just love 'not given lightly' by your inner whiplash girl child in the dark. Similarly, alcoholism, self-cutting, eating disorders, drug addiction all carry a similar loss of control. In the first film especially human blood is the ultimate narcotic for vampires, the 'vegetarian' diet of animals just barely keeps the Cullen clans satisfied. Being around Bella, for Edward, and not killing her, is as hard as it would be for me to have just one drink. The impossibility of moderate drinking for me (I'd consider keeping it down to seven drinks a night a triumph of self control).

"The pain was my only evidence he was real." - Bella 
Enlightenment doesn't occur from sitting around visualizing images of light, but from integrating the darker aspects of the self into the conscious personality. -- Jung
Blood, the life, love: over the course of five films Bella never has a single real hobby other than desire for Edward, anything else engaged in just a distraction; bringing junked motorcycles onto the reservation for Jake (the werewolf) to fix isn't because she likes him romantically but because the image of Edward shows up whenever she does 'something stupid' - i.e. crashing into a tree. Her various death-defying attempts conjure the spirit of Edward saying "Bella, don't" - trying to wrap her in his overprotective shroud, playing the latter stage animus in place of the dream lover (as above, the promise to return at her death bed). But Bella's misery wobble framing steadies around Jake and Stewart shows she's a far better actress than given credit for, as she modulates brilliantly from pale, shocked jiltee, to anguished grieving misery, to playful and sharp-witted, as often happens when one can tell the person they're hanging with is in love with them, and is therefore a captive audience. Bella's using Jake, really, as exploitative in her way as the first poison-brained white trader to swap furs and bear skins for two-cent trinkets. And using someone to get over someone else is not cool, yet how else are you going to do it?


And that's why Bella is so great both as a character and as Stewart's performance: she is not just one person, she has many facets and not all of them are admirable but Stewart plays the less admirable as if they were admirable, which is admirable in itself. When geeky mouth breathing classmate Mike (Michael Welch) finds out she's been dumped, he awkwardly asks her out to a movie with a romantic title like 'first kiss' or something and she snaps, "How about 'Face Punch' have you seen that?" as if she just made it up to send him a clear signal she's not into him.  That Face Punch turns out to be a real movie hardly matters to the brilliance of the scene--its refreshing savagery, it's code of small talk revealing the elaborate complexities of trying to keep clueless guys from hating you while spurning their advances. It probably wasn't even a real movie before she mentioned it. She creates the future before her like a reverse wake, like a zipper uniting the conscious and unconscious halves of psychic jacket, Edward and Jacob zipped together into androgyne Bela.


I can really only think of one or two heroines in film who measure up to that level of realistic fuckerwithery: Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind and Cathy in Wuthering Heights. Out of touch critics in the house can't rear back like startled horses over those ladies' behaviors as they do with Bella's, because they're old established literary classics, written by, not surprisingly, female authors. Each has a character smart enough to act like she doesn't know how smart she is, who slouches and mopes and takes advantage of seeming obtainable but is really quite grandiose and fierce, who plays coy and clueless about how much various boys are crazy over her: a total of traits that, in the rom-com world, would be the purview of bitchy villains, not protagonists. They each have two boys madly in love with them, one wild and dangerous and one anemic but reliable. The twist in Twilight is that the wan, pale anemic one is the unreliable love choice -- the vibrant anima mundi-reflection of the Jake / Rhett / Heathcliff is relegated to the lesser mortal bin, the wolf boy; Edward's name even sounds like Edgar, who marries Cathy and becomes as subjected to her capriciousness just as Jake is at the mercy of Bella's in Twilight. 

It's this reversal I most resonate with, because Bella is more than just one of a series of female-penned wantons daring to reappropriate the gaze, she is also one of the 'hurrah for the next who dies'-style lost generation, the Lucy Westerna rather than the Mia Harker. She is the modernist woman 'who chooses death,' realizing in it a truer choice (as in free will) than the one of life and health and mortality because among other things it's a choice that gives her a chance to stare down her fears, to embrace the demon and daemon, to ride over the cliff and into legend rather than get old and fat. Such women include Evelyn Venable in Death Takes a Holiday, Kate Winslet in Titanic, Assumpta Serna in Matador, both chicks in Thelma and Louise, Ava Gardner in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, Dietrich in Morocco and Dishonored, Sherri Moon Zombie in The Devil's Rejects.  Only by deliberately choosing to act against their own 'best' interests---with gaggles of men and authority figures trying to talk them out of what they're planning--can these romantic feminine characters be free. Whether that freedom lasts another week or a few seconds is irrelevant. Freedom is beyond such things as time. Sooner death comes, the sweeter the terrifying narcotic immediacy of the remaining life (see: Twilight's Cinematic Ancestors). The movie ends either way, so why not go for broke?


Twilight's reversal-of-logical-maturation metaphor is emblematic of death and addiction but also to the solitary life--that of the writer, a life spent largely with the unconscious, getting to know, as it were, one's second undiscovered second psyche through allowing it as free a reign as possible at the typewriter. The risks are many: madness, depression, and spirals of self-destruction. The animus might not even come to see you. It might disappear for months, absent from all dreams, writer's block. All good free-flowing inspired poetic 'flights of fancy' come from this daemonic other. That's why my favorite of the five Twilight films has been New Moon, mainly because the brilliant intertextual use of Bella's birthday to invoke a range of age-related fears and longings (including the dream where she's super old, perhaps the most honest and strangely honest metaphysical rendering of birthdays since 2001), and a high school English class assignment, Romeo and Juliet, which contextualizes both Bella's various adrenalin-rush seeking self-destructive behavior (she becomes, as her human friend says, disapprovingly, an adrenalin junky) as well as the more obvious (and fascinating) 'rescue' of said animus, preventing it from dissolving and reforming as the next phase of adult maturity takes over and the buzzkill 'always right' tea party drip, the safety-first counselor moves in: "Bela, stop."

Addicts surely relate, but even more cogently than Romeo and Juliet, Twilight's arc of Bella's pitiless insistence on becoming a vampire reminds me of Antigone, wherein she chooses to disobey the king's order and bury her slain brother, knowing full well his burial ensures her death. This loyalty to the dead to the point of a conscious, clear-eyed choice against one's own life, reflects the way feminine contrary fearlessness conquers even fate. You get to tell all the smarmy idiots who 'just want what's best for you' to fuck off, you can place your head in the lion's jaws with no fear:
"I shall lie down
With him in death, and I shall be as dear
To him as he to me.
It is the dead
Not the living, who make the longest demands:
We die for ever… "  -- Antigone 
For Romeo there's more grief at work fueled by brashness, rather than Antigone's (or Bella's) cool detached insistence on 'forever' with her love. Consider Romeo's speech:
"... I still will stay with thee,
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again. Here, here will I remain
With worms that are thy chamber maids. Oh, here
Will I set up my everlasting rest,
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last.
Arms, take your last embrace. And, lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death."
Bella meanwhile finds herself the target of a tracker dirtbag vampire in the first film, and must face him alone.
"I can't begin to regret the choices that brought me face to face with death, they also brought me closer to Edward." 
He's seeing death as a negative, of value only to make life's fleeting moments extra sweet, like Edward. He's a hothead. World-weary flesh? Unlike Edward, he's never been anywhere; his flesh isn't weary from anything but navel-gazing. His act one of youthful grandstanding, a poseur rather than Antigone's or Bella's cold, logical insistence, their refusal to judge death as negative, to back down even with death's teeth at their throat. Sure Bella needs a hobby or interest outside Edward, but neither she nor Antigone are living in 'reality' - they are in a story, a myth, they're only one aspect of unified whole. That's the fundamental mistake of so many movies: they think they must somehow reflect 'reality' and set a 'good example.' Just look at the roster of Oscar nominations and you see it -- the moralizing, the historical heft, the inspiration. Who needs it?

Shakespeare and the Greeks are lionized by the Academy yet never cared for setting good examples or reflecting reality, rather they cared for myth, which is a deeper truth of the psyche, a recognition of the impossibility of a fully known Self. A myth reflects the sum total of the unconscious and waking selves, the dream of night and the reality of day merged in the titular time, through symbol and archetypes and and performance, the only language the unconscious understands. Twilight cares only for sleep, for chasing the phantom shadows of the romantic animus and kicking the dull rescuing woodsmen to the curb.

Bella fixes herself to Thanatos like a lamprey. She stays true to her animus' original projection and Stephanie Meyer's series is a success because it understands the dimensions and limitations of the anima/animus persona so keenly, and understands as well that there's no truth left in waking reality anyway, not unless the unconscious depths of the ego are nourished, and listened to.
"Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens" - Jung
In recognizing themselves in their airbrushed pale-skinned phantom Edwards, Twilight fans find the same thing that once hypnotized legions of Garbo lovers in the death dream silent theater of the 20s. Their desire for her is so perfectly transmuted onto the screen their love isn't the male proprietary gaze but something both pre and post-sexual, even pre and post-maternal, it goes deeper still. The image of her projected face is thrilled to by the unconscious, leaving the rest of their waking reality and relationships seem like vague shadows by comparison (the wives of these smitten men were known as "Garbo widows").
 
... the animus is also sometimes represented as a demon of death. A gypsy tale, for example, tells of a woman living alone who takes in an unknown handsome wanderer and lives with him in spite of the fact that a fearful dream has warned her that he is the king of the dead. Again and again she presses him to say who he is. At first he refuses to tell her, because he knows that she will then die, but she persists in her demand. Then suddenly he tells her he is death. The young woman is so frightened that she dies. Looked at from the point of view of mythology, the unknown wanderer here is clearly a pagan father and god figure, who manifests as the leader of the dead (like Hades, who carried off Persephone). He embodies a form of the animus that lures a woman away from all human relationships and especially holds her back from love with a real man. A dreamy web of thoughts, remote from life..." - Marie-Louise von Franz

The mistake most Hollywood films make is to misinterpret Franz's "dreamy web of thoughts" as a condemnation, and to make sure their films have no such permanent mistakes on the part of their heroines. But kids need to see their dreamy webs onscreen. They don't need to see a realistic depiction of the maturation process, they see enough of it already. They don't need the visibly uncomfortable gym teacher creeping even into their most private reveries to caution them about protection. Before it shifts gears, the anima unconscious is aggressively contemptuous of goodness and safety, and even sexual gratification, and all the other mundane biological and sociological aspects of becoming an adult. The more one tries to eliminate all danger from their lives, to replace the perfection of the dream lover with some drab human orgasm grabber and baby haver, the farther away death becomes in their field of vision and the staler and duller real life grows. Their animus takes charge, gets bossy, obsesses about the letter of the rules and regulations, pointing out with glee the sinners and rule-breakers, sparking the pyre and laughing in paroxysms of self-righteous sadism.

And so it is not surprising that Twilight draws such rabid hostility from critics, their own mature animas pouring on the venom to convince them going back to the ex-animus, the daemonic lover as opposed to the scolding moralist. If they'd had a good therapist they might know enough to question their initial hostility, as I do in the opposite camp. I know my love of the series comes partly from rueful experience as an alcoholic, an experience seldom satisfied by contemporary myths. In the beginning I loved alcohol so much, I worried my friends, who'd been drinking long before me. I never even picked up a drink at all until high school graduation. It was such a perfect match it scared them. I almost killed myself a dozen times over and had to stop drinking altogether after a paltry 13 year-run. But I regret nothing! And if heroin had been offered to me, or speed, I probably would have gone for that, too. Now it's cigarettes. Every time I see some woman on TV with no fingers or throat or hair croaking her warnings about smoking through her tubes I just mute the sound like I'm sure Poe's Prospero wishes he could have done that striking clock chime in Masque of the Red Death. But these are the choices we make. And if more people made conscious choices to destroy themselves in these slow and pointless ways maybe our world wouldn't be so gruesomely overpopulated, or our country wouldn't be going bankrupt from too many old people draining Social Security. It's only when we're no longer afraid of death that we collectively can truly be free, and take the crowbar out of the spokes of the circle of life. In this sense, Twilight is like a lone dark spot in the unending light, or a light in the darkness --there is, after all, no difference in the end, a Yin/Yang split only works in conjunction with the other.

We see a bit of Western Civilization's knee-jerk pro-life jingoism in New Moon, wherein Edward dumps Bella, and flees with family in tow, hoping she moves, grows up (turning her essentially into an 'Edward widow'). But Bella learns she can get him to appear in a vision by risking her safety through typical teenage bad choices, forcing him to move from  demon lover to paternal but neglectful lecturer, telling her to turn around, to not get on the motorcycle, to not jump off a cliff, etc. He's not meant to be the stern authoritarian, that's supposed to be her next animus. It's great because we hate Edward for causing her so much pain. We relish with her the chance to bother him by remote control through such disregard for personal safety, forcing him to reveal a stern buzzkill authoritarianism that is utterly without effect or genuine authority, i.e. she recognizes that authority as a voice in her head rather than gospel. The adult animus turns so many women into dour nags, mistaking their dream lover's stern authority as gospel truth. Bella rejects that animus out of hand, forcing Edward into the role.

It's so bitterly fitting that even after the female director of the first film, Catherine Hardwicke, scored a hit both artistic and commercial and the film made zillions, she would be  replaced by a guy, Chris Weitz, for subsequent film, him borrowing a lot of her aesthetic sense  as well as all the animal and color symbolism. The first thing a film company does when they see a woman has made a hit film is to take over the sequel and kick her to the curb so she doesn't queer up this hit 'they've' lucked onto. I'll quote at this time a woman, from one of the few mainstream sites worth a damn, The Guardian:
"Twilight the film has been a massive success, but its audience is dismissed as fangirls, groupies, teenyboppers, airheads. It is sneered at by the same critics who misogynistically savaged Sex and the City and Mamma Mia, two other films made for women, with such blatant transparency. Strange that the belittling should be so vociferous; we women are the biggest group in the world, yet our viewpoint is ridiculed and denied, our testimony ignored. But that's the way it goes. The studios will use Twilight's profits to fund more films in which there are no decent roles for women, no women in major positions behind the scenes, no women directors. That's happened with Twilight's sequel: Hardwicke has been sacked and replaced by the guy who made The Golden Compass. The female gaze has been blinded yet again." -Bidisha, Guardian 2009."
I wouldn't go that far, Chris Weitz does an amazing job of preserving the female gaze, and there's still tons of mythic resonance on all sorts of levels, but there's also a sense of really picking up on what made the book and first film work - whereas to me the weakest of the series is Eclipse, which is directed by the dude who made 30 Days of Night - which makes sense as Eclipse is almost a sequel to that film as well as New Moon (I even lumped them together before I knew they had the same director in a post on the Nordic Circle rom-hor genre).  It's a fine enough film, with more action and flashbacks, as opposed to grand archetypal coming-of-age myth junky metaphor soap subversion and brilliant purple and mist scenery of the first two films. I should point out too that The Golden Compass has a young capable girl in the lead, boys to the side, wicked stepmother and a Catholic stand-in bad guy contingent similar to the Volturi in New Moon. Bad box office killed the chance for any sequels, alas, and the Christians backlashed it both for the anti-religion angle and, no doubt, the capable girl with powers angle.

It's a case again perhaps of deep-seated castration anxiety undercutting a lot of parents' good sense. But since when have fairy tales and myths had anything to do with sense? If they did, Red Riding Hood wouldn't even talk to the wolf in the first place, and all kids would be bored sick, and then probably have to go talk to wolves for real and get eaten and it would be your fault, mom!


There was a time when women screenwriters ruled in Hollywood, before the code came into effect, and talking to wolves was all the rage. But with the arrival of the code in 1934 came the feeling that, as now, telling women's stories is too important to be left to women. So stories of grandiose emotion and feeling were replaced by smug sermonizing where childish women are brought to heel, weened of their immature desire to be independent by endured humiliations at the hands of twits. Twilight dares to undo all of that, to go back farther than even the pre-code box office tallies can reach, down into the murky recesses of the Brothers Grimm, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, and pre-Inquisition alchemical magick, straight like a hot shot into the archetypal vein, the pulsing warm narcotic rush of the eternal feminine distilled and uncut, so primal it invokes knee-jerk revulsion from most men, a revulsion so deep they don't even recognize it, merely sense it as their chained-up anima kicking the floorboards, trying desperately to be heard among the macho ego din.

If, as Bidisha says above, the profits will be used to fund more male-centric films, well, we can only hope more films about women ruling the dark abysses of true myth will succeed at the box office. Snow White and the Huntsman and Black Swan did well by their women, even if directed by men, and even Disney has dared, for the first time ever, perhaps, to make an evil queen the star of a film, Maleficent (a very interesting name, as her own 'male-efficient' animus is already running the show). Starring Angelina Jolie with Art Deco cheekbones, it could be a bust of CGI 3-D boondoggle like that James Franco Oz, or it could rock. One can only hope it doesn't end with her falling in love with some doe-eyed dork prince and abandoning her witchy black magick ways so she can dote on him hand and foot, as is done, say, in post-code films like I Married a Witch and Bell, Book, and Candle.

I still remember when Jolie sparked bonfires with her Gia-Foxfire-Girl Interrupted power. We'll have to see if there's any of that blood left in her, or if her legions of biological and adopted kids have drained her dry. I'm happy she saved the world and all, but some of us just want to watch that world burn.

What's tragic isn't that we want it to watch the world burn, but that we have to clarify the 'watch' aspect to placate nervous censors, the NSA, common 'decency', and Batman. When we let life-affirming paternalistic morals rule even our dreams then our dark shadow hearts may have no choice to but to act out into the real, or worse, retreat --until all that's left are church socials, Lassie, freckled children, chaperones, white picket fences, and enough treacly strings to drive even a good girl straight to the devil. Isn't that why he set it up? Why he put the morals in and took himself out? The devil can't corrupt your soul when he's busy on the screen. His biggest triumph is convincing us not to put him there, not to project him out at all, just let him smolder unseen in his buried celluloid coffin like a sulky genie, until even the tiniest spark...

My alternative mix for the last two TWILIGHT movies.

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